Md. companies play role in providing gulf weapons WAR IN THE GULF

January 18, 1991|By Ted Shelsby

It was not by accident that the first wave of U.S. fighter-bombers used in the attacks on Iraq and Kuwait roared off toward their targets under the cover of darkness. Many of the planes were equipped with a sophisticated electronic system that turned darkness into daylight, giving them a huge advantage over Saddam Hussein's air force and defense.

The electro-optical navigation and targeting system, called LANTIRN and produced by Bethesda-based Martin Marietta Corp, enables pilots of high-performance F-15 and F-16 fighter planes to "see" targets electronically, even in darkness or bad weather, while flying terrain-hugging, under-the-radar missions at high speed.

Based on early news reports, Martin's LANTIRN system and a number of new high-technology weapons systems, some of which were used for the first time in combat, seem to have scored high grades, apparently performing as advertised by the manufacturers.

The LANTIRN system was just one of several contributions to the Persian Gulf war by Maryland companies.

Knocking out Iraq's large force of tanks will test the A-10 Thunderbolt, an ungainly-looking attack plane frequently referred to as "the ugly duckling" by workers at the Western Maryland factory where the craft was built.

The A-10, which is being used in combat for the first time, was designed to blast an enemy tank to pieces. It was produced by Fairchild Industries Inc. during the 1970s at a plant near Hagerstown that has since been closed and converted into an industrial park. It was the last airplane made in the state.

Some employees of AAI Corp in Cockeysville got a glimpse of the company's Pioneer remote pilotless vehicle in action Wednesday night when a television new report showed it being launched from a Navy ship toward the battle zone.

The little plane that looks more like a toy than a serious fighting machine has a television camera tucked in its nose and is used primarily for reconnaissance, artillery adjustment and assessing battlefield damage.

It is used before, during and after a battle, said James Christner, field operation manager for the AAI drone. He said Pioneer employees have there "a lot of pride and enthusiasm" on their part concerning their contributions to the war effort.

Lawrence J. Rytter, AAI's executive vice president, said the United States has six Pioneer systems currently based in the Middle East, including a forward supply point and repair operations in Bahrain. Each system is made up of six to eight planes, or RPV as the company refers to them.

The Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group adjacent to Baltimore/Washington International Airport built the AWACS airborne radar systems that is being used as a sort of traffic zTC control system monitoring air traffic throughout the Persian Gulf region.

Westinghouse makes the radar equipment housed in the dish-shaped dome mounted on top of a military version of a Boeing 707 jetliner. AWACS planes are designed to look down on the Earth from abut 30,000 feet to simultaneously track the movements of both enemy and friendly aircraft.

Westinghouse also makes the fire control radar used on the F-16 fighter plane, the main radar system on the plane, which serves its long-range "eyes." The radar is also used for detecting and tracking targets and guiding weapon systems, including air-to-air missiles, fired by the F-16 pilot at their targets.

Martin Marietta also produces the Patriot air-defense missile that battlefield commanders in Saudi Arabia are counting on to knock down enemy planes and rockets.

Another Martin missile, the Hellfire, would be used in the battle against Iraqi tanks. The Hellfire is a laser-guided missile that is the primary armament of the Apache attack helicopter.

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